Once again, Cougs get little national love

ASIDE FROM CBS's Clark Kellogg and Gary Parrish, as well as the good folks in Connecticut at the Hartford Courant, who predict a Sweet 16 run for WSU, the Cougars appear to be getting the same lack of national Big Dance respect this year as last.

Oral Roberts seemed to be a consensus national pick to pull off a first-round upset against WSU last season. The Cougars, of course, proved them wrong with a 16-point victory.

Among those placing the WSU-Winthrop match up on their list of first-round upset specials are Pete Thamel of the New York Times, Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, Frank Burlison of Scout.com and Bob Lutz of the Wichita Eagle. The pundits at Boston Magazine and deadspin.com also forecast victory for the No. 13-seeded Eagles.

Winthrop, says Thamel, is peaking "while Washington State is struggling." As evidence, he notes that the Cougs have lost three of their last six games. He doesn't mention that two of those losses were to third-seeded Stanford.

No doubt fueling the love for the Eagles is the fact they pulled off one of only three major first-round upsets in last year's tourney. In Spokane, as the 11th seed, they dispatched fifth-seeded (and perennial media favorite) Notre Dame before falling to Oregon in the second round.

It should be noted that Zillgitt doesn't speak for all of USA Today's pundits. Tim Gardner predicts a Cougar win over Winthrop, but he sees Notre Dame prevailing in the second round.

While others aren't going so far as to declare WSU-Winthrop an upset special, it is a contest that is drawing intrigue around the nation. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calls it the top first-round game in the East.

And John Feinstein, the esteemed sports author with an ego bigger than Cleveland, writes in this morning's Washington Post that WSU's No. 4 seeding is one of the tournament's most questionable placings -– as in, they shouldn't be that high.

He was so struck by the Cougs' lofty landing that he waited all of four sentences before bringing it up in his column today. The Cougars, he says, easily could lose to Notre Dame in the second round and that George Mason, 2006's Cinderella, should have a solid shot at knocking off the Irish.

As for Kellogg, the long-time CBS analyst and former NBA player, he said Sunday that WSU's veteran talent and stout defense make the Cougs a team that could make a nice run.

Parrish says Wazzu is "a brutal matchup for anybody and everybody -- I've got the Cougars losing in the Sweet 16 to North Carolina, but I'm not completely comfortable with it. Washington State is that prickly."

Andy Katz at ESPN.com didn't have a lot to say about the Cougs yesterday, but he made two prescient observations ... that Harmeling's health (ankle) is something to keep an eye on and that if Derrick Low gets hot from downtown, "the Cougars have a real shot to advance."

• In the last ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, the Cougars are ranked No. 21. A break down of how the 25 coaches who make up the poll cast their votes shows a clear geographic divide in how the Cougs are viewed. Tim Floyd of USC, Greg Graham of Boise State and Steve Fisher of San Diego State each ranked WSU between No. 14 and No. 9. Most of the rest of the coaches put WSU somewhere in the 20s. And three coaches didn't include WSU on their ballots at all, while all three had Gonzaga listed. Go figure. Given what little West Coast representation there is on the panel, it's a wonder any schools out this way are on the list. The AP poll has the Cougs listed at No. 21.

• Two Cougar players have to be thrilled with the team's placement in Denver this week. Forwards Daven Harmeling and Caleb Forrest are both from Colorado.

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